Whether you’re an entrepreneur with a new Web site or part of a large organization offering diversified products or services, if your job has to do with computers or the Internet, you may be able to profit from being written up in a computer publication.
Getting good public relations can help you in three ways, says Jim DeLorenzo, president of JHD Enterprises, a PR agency in Malvern, Pa., that focuses on the Internet. First, it can drive traffic to your Web site. Second, it’s a validation of your product or service. And third, it can help you obtain financing.
But getting coverage in the computer press involves more than just spewing out press releases touting your plans or accomplishments. You have to be smart about it.
“Too many Internet businesses are clueless about PR,” says Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, senior technology editor at Sm@rt Reseller magazine and chairman of the Internet Press Guild, an organization for journalists who cover information technology.
When talking shop, journalists sometimes share stories about gaffes committed by those seeking exposure. Vaughan-Nichols relates that recently, instead of sending a press release, a PR pro pitching a networking appliance showed up at his home, uninvited and unannounced. Vaughan-Nichols offered hot cocoa. “I should have called in the attack dogs,” he jokes.
Not long ago the aquarium in a city on the East Coast sent me a notice about its evening program, which was described as taking place under the stars. As I opened the press release a dozen or so little plastic stars flew out. There was no tie-in to computers or the Internet, which is what I write about. I spent the next few minutes finding and picking the plastic stars off me and the floor.
The aquarium violated two important rules in getting ink, says Vaughan-Nichols. One, know your audience, and two, be helpful.
To help those seeking PR get it, and to try to prevent these kinds of mistakes, the Internet Press Guild recently released an update to “The Care and Feeding of The Press: A Guide to Sending Press Releases.” The guide is targeted to “PR people who ought to know better and to small-business people who are doing it on their own,” says lead author Esther Schindler.
While the document’s focus is on technology publications, the principles apply across industries. You can read it in its entirety at www.netpress.org. Here are the highlights:
- Treat media relations seriously. If you don’t have the skills and time to do it right, hire someone who does.
- Contact the right people. Don’t send a press release about game software to a business publication or one about a personnel change to a consumer publication. Consult the publication’s masthead, writers’ blurbs or Web site to find the appropriate person or people within the organization to receive your press release.
- Make it easy for journalists to work with you. Know the type of material they use, and make sure what you send is genuinely newsworthy. Ask if they prefer paper or e-mail press releases. Don’t send unsolicited faxes or make cold calls. Don’t follow up a press release with a phone call asking if it has been received. Don’t send demo, time-limited or beta software-most journalists, unless they specify otherwise, need to evaluate the same programs sold to consumers.
- Be succinct. Make it clear in the first paragraph or two what the product or service is named, what it does, who its target market is and why readers should care. Minimize jargon. Don’t bother with manufactured quotes from company executives about how great the product is. Focus on features and benefits and how the product compares with its competition.
- If you’re sending an e-mail press release, most journalists prefer straight text. Include a descriptive Subject header, not just “Press Release” or “Hello, Joe!” If you’re doing a group e-mailing, don’t include your entire press list in the To or Cc header; put the list in the Bcc header or use a bulk e-mail program.
- Don’t send unsolicited e-mail attachments-they’re susceptible to viruses, and most journalists delete them unread. Journalists typically prefer a signature to a vCard at the end of your e-mail message.
- Be complete. Include such information as cost, availability, product specifications and contact information for the press and the public. Don’t withhold contact information from press releases posted on the Web. Keep the press release to a page or two, limiting it to the most newsworthy information, and put other relevant material in a backgrounder or white paper.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http:// members. home.net/reidgold.